A macchiato and a mocha are two of my favorite drinks, but they fall on opposite ends of the coffee spectrum.
Mocha is a delicious dessert drink, and a macchiato will make you want to get up and go.
In this article, I’ll explain the primary differences between a macchiato vs mocha, how each is made, and which you should order.
We’ll also go into greater detail about types of “macchiato,” since it’s a commonly misunderstood and mislabeled drink in coffee culture.
Hopefully, this simple explanation will save you (and your barista) from unnecessary stress at the cafe counter!
Ok, let’s get going!
What is a Macchiato?
Macchiato is one of the most confusing coffee orders. From one cafe to the next, it’s prepared in dramatically different fashions.
Here are a few of the most common takes on a macchiato.
A traditional espresso macchiato is made by dribbling a tiny dot of steamed milk on top of a single shot of espresso. The Italian word “macchiato” literally means “stained,” which, in this case, is exactly what the milk is doing to the coffee.
This drink is for you if you want to take the edge off of straight espresso.
A traditional macchiato is usually served as a single shot. In some cases, it can be prepared as a Long (Double) Macchiato. A double is the same drink, only more of it.
A third-wave coffee shop is where you’re most likely to encounter a traditional macchiato espresso drinks. It’s a tiny drink and not as sweet as what is served in most chains.
Some shops have taken to adding more milk to a traditional macchiato. More milk means less bitterness and espresso intensity. Often these milk-heavy variations create a drink that is more similar to a cortado or piccolo latte.
My rule of thumb says if your drink includes as much milk as coffee, it isn’t a macchiato. Not everyone agrees – or so say their menus.
If you’re placing a coffee order in a cafe that gravitates toward sweet and milky coffee, the drink you ordered is probably a Latte Macchiato.
A latte macchiato doesn’t look or taste anything like the traditional version. It’s a larger drink where steamed milk is the dominant ingredient. Rather than staining espresso with a dab of milk, a latte macchiato does the opposite.
To prepare this drink, fill a tall glass with about 200 mL of steamed milk. Then sprinkle an espresso shot over the top to “stain” it. Some baristas pour the espresso over the back of a spoon to diffuse it better across the surface. Then add milk foam to the top.
It’s basically a latte, with a slightly different presentation.
Much as they’ve done with a traditional cafe latte, large chains like Starbucks have given a newer sweeter take on the Latte Macchiato.
You’ve probably heard of their Caramel Macchiato. The Starbucks caramel macchiato is rich in flavor and sweetness.
To be fair, a Starbucks caramel macchiato is about as far away as you can get from the original drink. It sure is tasty, though.
To prepare a caramel macchiato, add half an ounce of vanilla syrup and a shot of espresso. Top it with steamed milk, and apply a criss-cross pattern of caramel sauce atop the surface layer of foam.
You may have already guessed that caramel is considered the “stain” in this drink.
It’s a very sweet drink, overpowering for some people. You can offset some of the sweetness by adding more espresso, particularly a darker roast with more bitterness and robust flavor.
Which type of macchiato is the real thing? Ultimately, that’s not up to me to decide.
The most important thing is finding the balance between milk and coffee that works for you. Understand the main differences from the other drinks people call a “macchiato,” and talk to the barista about your preferences when you order. That way, you’ll get your favorite type of macchiato, not theirs.
What is a Mocha?
Mocha is a chocolate latte. That’s the long and short of it.
Like a macchiato, there are also several variations of a cafe mocha. But they aren’t nearly as confusing. Most are superficial and have to do with the toppings.
Cafe mocha is served as a 10-12 ounce drink. Espresso is mixed with chocolate syrup at the bottom of the cup. Steamed milk is added. In many cases, it’s topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate on top or even a chocolate syrup drizzle on top.
If you love coffee and chocolate, there are few things more luxurious than this.
It’s rich, creamy, super-chocolatey, and has a blast of caffeine from the espresso. Depending on where you order, you may also find a mocha served iced or as a frappe.
Differences Between Mocha vs Macchiato
Let’s take a closer look at the differences between mocha and macchiato. For this article, I’ll focus specifically on the classic drinks, not the newer adaptations.
I’ve written a direct comparison of latte vs mocha here. It gives a more specific representation of caramel and latte macchiato.
With that context in mind, let’s compare a traditional macchiato and a cafe mocha.
There are few things more powerful than a first impression. And the size difference between these drinks is something that will stick with you.
If you’ve never ordered an espresso macchiato, brace yourself for its diminutive stature. A single is served at about 1 fluid ounce and looks like something a doll might drink. It’s tiny!
On the other hand, a mocha looks like a regular-sized cup of coffee. It’s served at 10-12 ounces and can be difficult to distinguish from a standard latte until you taste it.
The most jarring sensory difference between mocha and macchiato is the intensity of coffee flavor. If you’re accustomed to mocha’s smooth and drinkable flavor, then espresso macchiato may feel quite potent.
Mocha is prepared with 3 times more milk than coffee. This mellows out the flavor and creates a velvety texture. The coffee is still there, somewhere in the background.
The coffee flavor will hit you square in the mouth with a traditional macchiato. Compared with straight espresso, that little dab of milk foam will lessen the blow. But not by much. Get ready for a coffee explosion on your tongue.
A mocha is much sweeter than a macchiato, although there is some variation.
The lactose in whole milk creates a natural sweetness when warmed. Because a mocha is mostly steamed milk, you’ll get a lot of sweetness even when using dark chocolate and no added sweeteners.
In most cases, mocha is prepared with sweet chocolate syrup, added sweeteners, and sometimes a sweet topping.
A traditional macchiato falls at the opposite end of the sweetness spectrum. Because this drink is almost entirely espresso, the dominant flavor is often bitterness. A dab of milk foam damps down the bitterness but doesn’t add any meaningful sweetness to the cup.
There is a big difference in milk portions between these two drinks. While a mocha is mostly milk, espresso macchiato only has a small dab.
For mocha, milk is prepared by steaming. In most cases, there is a short layer of foam atop the drink. About ¼” or less. It’s textured, and the perfect amount for latte art.
With a traditional macchiato, you’ll usually get 10 mL of milk (or less). Sometimes this is steamed milk, but the barista uses foamed milk more often.
Is there a difference in caffeine content between these drinks? It depends.
Although a mocha and macchiato have very different serving sizes, both usually contain a similar size of 1-2 ounces of espresso per drink.
You can expect a 1-ounce espresso to contain about 75 mg of caffeine. This may vary slightly depending on the type of beans you use.
If you need to understand caffeine content, determine how many espresso shots will be used in your drink. Either drink can have more caffeine than the other. It depends on how many shots the barista has in their recipe.
A mocha will always have more calories than a traditional macchiato. It’s all of that milk and sugar from the syrup!
A Latte Macchiato may be one of the few drinks to carry more calories than a mocha. But a single espresso macchiato will usually carry less than 10 calories.
In most cases, an espresso macchiato has equivalent caffeine content to a cafe mocha. A macchiato is made with espresso and steamed milk. But the flavor of a macchiato will be much, much stronger. A mocha combines espresso with hot milk and chocolate. The heavy milk content in a mocha syrup dulls the intensity of the espresso flavor you’ll experience in each sip.
A mocha contains chocolate macchiato does not. While a mocha is always sweeter than a traditional espresso macchiato, it is sometimes less sweet than a latte macchiato. If your order is for a caramel macchiato, adding vanilla syrup and caramel sauce puts its sweetness over the top. A traditional macchiato is not sweet at all.
An espresso macchiato is much more concentrated than regular coffee, but the serving size is smaller. Therefore the flavor intensity of the coffee is much stronger. And the amount of caffeine consumed in each sip is higher. One factor worth considering is that your standard 8-ounce cup of coffee has many more sips than a 1.25-ounce macchiato. Thus, the overall caffeine content of a cup of coffee is usually more than that of a single espresso macchiato.
Final Thoughts on Mocha vs Macchiato
Here’s the bottom line. If you’re looking for a fun easy to sip sweet drink, grab a mocha. And if you’d rather have an espresso-driven kick in the pants, a traditional macchiato is the better choice.
Mocha has a luxurious chocolate flavor, and thick mouthfeel. That sensation will linger on your tongue after each sip.
Macchiato is dominated by coffee flavor, which is only slightly diminished by a dab of steamed milk foam.
Just be sure you’re on the same page with your barista when ordering a macchiato. A 10-second conversation can save you both a lot of grief.
Many cafes, especially big chains, prefer to flip the traditional macchiato on its head. A “latte macchiato” is mostly milk and only a stain of espresso. It’s sweet, creamy, and sometimes flavored with caramel or vanilla.
Whichever drink you choose, here’s to happy sipping!
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